VALPARAISO | The return of the first real cold spell in more than a year is resulting in the first real spate of water line problems, both for the city's water utility and for home owners.
Water Distribution Manager Chuck McIntire told the city's Utilities Board on Tuesday the department had six main breaks between Friday and Tuesday evening. The cold snap along with the lack of snow cover to provide insulation were the main causes. Most of the breaks occurred in the older areas between Harrison Boulevard and Beech Street, he said.
To avoid having to issue a boil order as a result of shutting off the water for repairs, McIntire said the goal is to keep the water flowing at no less than 20 pounds per square inch. It means the repair crews get wet. The number of main breaks, caused by shifting the ground from the changing temperatures, were down in 2012 from 2011 because of the mild winter.
Asked by Board Member Mark Thiros what the department does to prevent breaks, McIntire said, "I come to the board for more money to replace the old pipes." He said the pipes involved with the recent breaks probably were installed around the time of World War II. He said the city hasn't had water freeze in a main for more than 30 years.
That's not the case with residential lines, where the city has responded to another half dozen complaints of water lines freezing during this cold spell. He said people have forgotten about the need to take precautions because of the mild winters recently. The best tool for unfreezing a pipe is a hair dryer, he said.
Deputy Engineering Director Adam McAlpine told the board the weather station set up on the city hall roof in the spring for about $1,600 is providing valuable information for city departments. The weather station collects information on rainfall, wind speed and direction, temperatures, and wind chills.
The water utilities use the information to monitor possible sewer overflows from heavy rains. McAlpine said the weather data now is connected to the city's website so residents can get up-to-date information on conditions.